30 January 2012

South Sudan non sequitur

Simon Tisdall writes in the Guardian
disputes over oil revenue-sharing, cross-border conflict, and looming famine. These multiple crises combine to pose a fundamental question: can South Sudan survive as a viable state?
Which in a slightly round-about way is a nice reminder of the tremendous benefits of studying economics. Economics teaches you a handful of incredibly powerful core concepts which, once assimilated, you kind of take for granted, and forget that not everybody intuitively thinks this way. Supply and demand. Incentives. Opportunity cost.

Opportunity cost means asking "compared to what." Can South Sudan survive as a viable state compared to what? A Khartoum-led state whose most significant offerings to the South over the last 50 years have been bombs? In what sense was the Khartoum-led state "viable" in the South over the last 50 years?

It's a bit like sceptically asking a daily victim of domestic violence for 50 years whether they are really being realistic thinking that they can survive as a viable independent household.

Would you rather live in a weak state or a state that is literally trying to kill you?


Adrain said...

Fair question but here's another. How will the state survive and finance its own government if the oil pipeline is allowed to flow empty? In penury unless it gets enormous amounts of help (breeding dependence) from outside. Apart from supply and demand, and opportunity cost, you need also to consider basic budget management (not Merkozy's; Mancur Olson's will do). The South Sudan state needs to get far further down the path of revenue diversification (like having customs posts on its northern borders which collect regular tariff revenues and return them to a central treasury) before it can forgo the luxury of crude oil exports. Even surviving as what you call a weak state requires some revenues for defence and to run the rudiments of government.

rovingbandit said...

That is all true. I think I just struggle with the phrase "can South Sudan survive as a viable state," particularly the word viable. What exactly does that mean? Yes there is weak governance in South Sudan, yes that will continue for the foreseeable future, and yes there has basically always been weak governance in South Sudan. "Survive as a viable state" is just too vague - what precisely is it trying to say?

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